One of the stars of the South Cross has been given a new name. Collision of Dead Stars Unlocks 'New Chapter' for Astronomy. Credit — NASA Goddard via Storyful
One of the stars of the South Cross has been given a new name. Collision of Dead Stars Unlocks 'New Chapter' for Astronomy. Credit — NASA Goddard via Storyful

The big change to the Southern Cross

TATTOOED Australian patriots could be in for a surprise.

The five stars of the most famous constellation to grace our skies, the Southern Cross, have had a name revision and one has had a traditional Aboriginal name officially recognised by the international naming authority.

The smallest star in the well-recognised configuration has been officially named Ginan, the name by which the Wardaman people of the Northern Territory have been referring to it for thousands of years.

The Ginan is commonly known as the fifth star of the southern cross, the smallest in the formation. Picture: ESO / Y. Beletsky
The Ginan is commonly known as the fifth star of the southern cross, the smallest in the formation. Picture: ESO / Y. Beletsky

Until recently, the International Astronomical Union (IAU), recognised stars only by what's called their "Bayer designation", a combination of Greek and Latin that identifies a star's location.

But the IAU has revised that to give names to each star, considering how different cultures refer to them, to both acknowledge the cultures and to make it easier for people around the world to refer to them.

Ginan was among 86 stars to be officially named last year. The new names were selected from cultures around the world, including Chinese, Coptic, Hindu, Mayan, South African and Australian Aboriginal.

The Southern Cross is not only a well known constellation, but a symbol of Australia.
The Southern Cross is not only a well known constellation, but a symbol of Australia.

Monash University indigenous astronomer Duane Hamacher told the ABC that granting Ginan its traditional name was a "great step" towards "decolonising space", and said Aboriginal people had been practising science - particularly astronomy - for tens of thousands of years

"It's very important that modern astronomy and modern science in general works on decolonising space and really acknowledging and learning from traditional, indigenous and Aboriginal knowledge systems and languages," Dr Hamacher said.

A total of four stars have been given Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander names with three of them coming from the Wardaman people from Katherine.

Along with Ginan, Wardaman names Larawag and Wurren were given to stars, and the Boorong name Unurgunite was given to another star.

Aboriginal names now represent some of the most ancient star names in the IAU catalogue, the organisation said.



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